Florida Sex Offender News

With an increase in some of the state’s most dangerous sex offenders living outside of prisons and on probation, some of the state officers assigned to watch them have asked the Legislature for a raise to keep the most experienced on board.

As of last month, 1,812 community supervision officers with the Florida Department of Corrections watched 166,966 people sentenced to probation, house arrest, parole or awaiting trial. Only the experienced officers were assigned to supervise the most dangerous, 4,724 high risk sex offenders. That’s a 30 percent jump from the 3,231 under watch 10 years ago, according to reports provided by the agency.

But as the need for experienced officers goes up with dangerous sex offender caseloads, the state’s ranks are eroding as new officers are lured away by better paying jobs. At least 60 percent of them quit after two years, an agency report stated.

“They go through training and they may know the mechanics of the job, but the balance of the paperwork and doing visits and going to court takes time,” said Tammy Marcus, who supervises the state’s Fort Lauderdale probation office. “It’s that lack of experience that can get them in trouble.”

Retired state probation officer Michael Manguso said lawmakers don’t realize how often people convicted of the worst crimes don’t actually go to prison. The combination of dangerous criminals and inexperienced probation officers will become a problem in the future, Manguso said.

“I think it would scare the hell out of them if they knew some of these criminals who commit dangerous crimes get sentenced to community supervision,” Manguso said. “These are those violent crimes like aggravated battery, sex offenses, you name it.”

Marcus and the Florida Police Benevolent Association want the Legislature to set aside $9 million in next year’s state budget to give probation officers a pay raise. Part of the money would give $2,500 pay raises to probation officers, which is similar to the state prison officers received in this year’s budget. The rest would be aimed toward rewarding experienced officers by length of service.

 State probation officers last received a substantial raise about 10 years ago in the wake of outrage over the 2004 torture and murder of six people and a dog at a home in Deltona. Suspect Troy Victorino was already on probation for a violent offense and had been arrested before he took part in the case known as the “Xbox murders.”  His probation officer failed to report him for the pre-murder arrest.

Victorino, 40, was sentenced to death and four probation officers were fired, but the Legislature subsequently approved pay raises from 2004 to 2006.

Starting salary for probation officers is now $33,478, and requirements for the job include a bachelor’s degree. Probation supervisors make $50,000 and many of them have master’s degrees, said Marcus, who has been with the agency for 26 years.

“Think of that salary when a county jail wants to hire you at $45,000, or a local police agency,” Marcus said. “But with the pay, having to go into some of the worst neighborhoods and no overtime, would you stay?”

Gov. Rick Scott had included probation officers in his proposal to give state corrections officers raises in this year’s budget. But the probation officers were cut from the plan.

Prisons Secretary Julie Jones said she would be willing to help the probation officers, but no one has approached her, yet. Scott did not include the raises in the $87.4 billion recommended budget he unveiled on Nov. 14.

Sen. Rob Bradley, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he was disappointed probation officers were not included in the raises given to prison guards, but next year’s budget will also be tight.

Lawmakers have already been told by state economists to expect more a than $600 million increase in costs from the state’s Medicaid program and climbing school enrollment. The state’s pension fund also will need an extra $50 million and costs from the recovery of Hurricane Irma could exceed $127 million.

“That being said, I would like to do something in the 2018 budget to help our hard-working probation officers, if possible,” said Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican.

Manguso warned lawmakers to not wait until tragedy occurs to bump up salaries. He worked as a probation officer for 29 years before he was promoted to a position in the agency’s headquarters in Tallahassee.

“You think about more sex offenders going on probation and the people watching them are either overworked, inexperienced or both,” Manguso said. “You hate to think that anything to happen but lawmakers are not known for getting ahead of an issue like this.”

State probation officers were included in pay raises given this year to other state agency employees. The increases ranged from $1,400 for those earning less than $40,000 annually and $1,000 for those who made more than $40,000.

Lawmakers approved a similar pay increase in 2013.

Agency data show the average caseload in October was 33 sex offenders per probation officer, well within a 40-case threshold. But those numbers will vary wildly among the roughly 150 offices around the state. Usually, caseloads are high due to turnover.

“None of the reports you’ll see will show you what officers are seeing in those offices, sometimes 20 to 25 percent over what they’re supposed to be,” Manguso said. “Each time someone quits, their cases go to someone else.”

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